Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Weird Words For Your Writing Pleasure

About a year ago, the millionth word was officially added to the English language. The word with that dubious honor was "Web 2.0" (yes, I know it has numbers in it; I'm not in charge of the English language here :-), which is a term that refers to "the second, more social generation of the Internet."

I'm not sure whether it's a noun, a verb, or an adjective. Maybe it's meant to be all of them, like many other web terms have become (Google, Twitter, and Facebook, to name a few).

Anyway, there are a MILLION WORDS in the English language. That's a lot of words. Here are twenty of them you probably haven't heard. Feel free to use them in your writing, or blow someone's mind with them at your next Scrabble game.

(You may note that "defenestrate" is not on the list. I didn't include it because, strangely enough, most writers seem to know that one. In case you don't, it means "the act of throwing someone or something out a window" - as you'd like to do with your couch when someone's car alarm is going off right outside your house.)

Erinaceous: Like a hedgehog
Lamprophony: Loudness and clarity of voice
Depone: To testify under oath
Finnimbrun: A trinket or knick-knack
Floccinaucinihilipilification: Estimation that something is valueless. Proper pronunciation based on Latin: flockə-nowsə-nəkələ-pələ-fək-ation.
Inaniloquent: Pertaining to idle talk
Limerance: An attempt at a scientific study into the nature of romantic desire.
Mesonoxian: Pertaining to midnight
Mungo: A dumpster diver; one who extracts valuable things from trash
Nihilarian: A person who deals with things lacking importance (pronounce the ‘h’ like a ‘k’).
Nudiustertian: The day before yesterday
Phenakism: Deception or trickery
Pronk: A weak or foolish person
Pulveratricious: Covered with dust
Rastaquouere: A social upstart, especially from a Mediterranean or Latin American country; a smooth untrustworthy foreigner
Scopperloit: Rude or rough play
Selcouth: Unfamiliar, rare, strange, marvelous, wonderful.
Tyrotoxism: To be poisoned by cheese
Widdiful: Someone who deserves to be hanged
Zabernism: The abuse of military power or authority.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Healey's Cave: debut paranormal mystery

Hi, folks.
Healey's Cave, the debut novel in the Moore Mysteries paranormal series is scheduled to be released August 15th this year. This will be my fifth book in print, but the first book in what I also call "The Green Marble" series. Many of you helped me when my publisher asked us to do a survey for the book's title last year. And yes, it does seem to take forever to get a book to print, doesn't it?
Anyway, I have the electronic version of the ARC (advanced review copy) and should have some print versions of the ARC available in the next month or so.
Would you like to review the book for me? I'm trying to get the word out so I can do a virtual tour in September, where I'll feature your reviews, interviews with me, excerpts from the book, etc. If you'd like to host me during September (do an interview or write an article about Healey's Cave on Gather or your own blog), feel free to volunteer and I'll schedule a day for us.
Here's the synopsis:

Sam Moore's little brother vanished fifty years ago. No body. No answers. What Sam has is a boatload of guilt, since he failed to accompany Billy on his final, fateful bike ride.
While digging in his garden, Sam discovers a green marble with a startling secret—it whisks him back to his childhood, connecting him to Billy. Thrust back and forth through time, Sam struggles to unlock the secret of his brother’s fate.

When the FBI investigates remains found nearby, Sam learns of a serial killer with a grisly fifty-year record. Sam’s certain it’s Billy’s killer. But what’s worse, his grandson fits the profile of the murdered boys. Will the killer return to Sam’s town to claim his final kill? Can Sam untangle the truth in time to save him?
Let me know - either via email at aaron.lazar@yahoo.com, or below in the comments section - if you'd like to do a review.


Aaron P. Lazar

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

So, It's Time to Query

I clipped the cartoon to the left several years ago from The New Yorker (I believe--it's been so long I can't remember). Anyway the caption reads: "We do not usually acknowledge unsolicited manuscripts, but we want you to know that we tore yours into tiny pieces. Yours sincerely, The Op-Ed page."

Isn't that the universal fear? Rejection?

Now that my third novel is complete, I've been working on writing the synopsis and of course, the next step will be to query agents. I have to admit it's more than a bit intimidating but exciting all at the same time. Unfortunately, it's not going to get done unless I roll up my sleeves and think positively.

On the up side of things, I've been blessed with the many contacts I've made over the years--other authors who have been willing to share their experiences with me. Several years ago, a good friend of mine who has been published numerous times by Bantam and Simon & Schuster offered these words of advice.

Where to start:

1) Purchase a current copy of "Writers Guide to Literary Agents."  Another option is to check with your local library to see if they have a copy.

2) Pick the best—aim high.
    a) Put together an A, a B, and a C list.
    b) Mail five from the A list wait 2 weeks.
    c) Mail five from the B list wait 2 weeks.
    d) Mail five from the C list wait 2 weeks.

3) Go to a your local book story and look through the acknowledgements sections of books in your genre for names of agents. Best if you read the book before mention it to the agent.
    a) Write to the agent: “I just read ….. and noticed …..’s acknowledgement of you. I admire ….’s work   
         and think it is reminiscent of my work.”

4) Query Letter:
     a) Three parts to the letters:
          i) Introduction/what genre do you write?.
          ii) Provide information about your novel.
          iii) Information about you (degrees, previously published works, awards etc.)
    b)  Refer to other works they represent.
    c)  Don’t compare your work to that of a famous (or not so famous) author.
    d)  Check with Writers’ Guide for specifics
         i) Write ONLY one page.
         ii) Get in and get out—tell them what you write and why you’re the person to write it.
         iii) DON”T self-praise own work.
         iv) Condense the theme of your book to 2-3 sentences.
         v) Send ONLY what they ask for.
         vi) Be very corporate in your letter
         vii) Times New Roman 12
         viii) Title and page number in the upper right-hand corner of the manuscript.
         ix) Send SASE if requested.
         x)  E-mail your query, synopsis, and sample chapters only if the agent states he/she will accept e-mails  

5) Be cold-blooded. This is the time when it pays to be self-centered and focused on a goal. Sales of 5,000 books will get you noticed. An agent is the only one who can get me into the big times.

6) Don’t be locked into New York. There are good agents in California, Colorado, and other states.

7) It’s best if the book is completed. If you’ve been previously published, that will give you a leg up. An agent will see the quality of your writing from reviewing your previous works.

8) Polish the first three chapters and send out the queries.

9) Give it time. It could take several weeks/months before you receive replies.

10) Attend writing conferences whenever possible and get in on pitch sessions with agents.

An excellent website full of information about literary agents, manuscript submissions, queries etc., is Guide to Literary Agents editor’s blog by Chuck Sambuchino.
About the author:
Marta Stephens writes crime mystery/suspense. Her books are available online at familiar shops such as all the Amazons, Barnes & Noble, Borders, Books-a-Million, and Powells. Other locations include, but are not limited to those listed on her website.

THE DEVIL CAN WAIT (2008), Bronze Medal Finalist, 2009 IPPY Awards, Top Ten, 2008 Preditors and Editors Reader Poll (mystery).

SILENCED CRY (2007) Honorable Mention, 2008 New York Book Festival, Top Ten, 2007 Preditors and Editors Reader Poll (mystery),

Personal site: www.martastephens-author.com
Personal blog: http://mstephens-musings.blogspot.com  
Collective blog: http://murderby4.blogspot.com  
Blog: http://novelworks2.blogspot.com 
Character Blog: http://www.samharpercrimescene.blogspot.com  

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Your Novel's Theme Song?

Music is one of the most important things in my life. I am and always will be a writer, but I couldn't live without music. I feel that music is proof that humans are capable of creating miraculously beautiful things, and music is the hope that some day we'll all learn what's truly important in life, and stop treating each other like crap.

But that's more philosophical than I meant to get today. :-)

I have, quite unintentionally, ended up assigning a theme song to nearly every novel I've written. Usually it's a song that I end up listening to several dozen times while I'm writing it, that always helps me get in the right mood for the book. Here are a few of my accidental theme songs:

BROKEN ANGEL - "Bother" by Cory Taylor

DEVIL'S HONOR - "The Last of the Mohicans: Promontory"

MASTER OF NONE - "No Leaf Clover" by Metallica

SKIN DEEP - "Scarborough Fair", arrangement by the Vitamin String Quartet

HUNTED - "Davy Jones' Locket" from The Pirates of the Carribean 3

Today I just discovered the theme song for my current project. I'm especially partial to this because it features heavy piano accompaniment, and the vocalist just has a gorgeous voice. The lyrics are also inspiring. Here's a nice YouTube video if you're interested in hearing it.

What's your novel's theme song?

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Live Chats - do they sell books?

I had the pleasure of being hosted on a guest chat a few weeks ago on Gather.com by Connie C.  Actually, it was my first live chat. (Transcript here) I've done scads of radio shows, live talks, book clubs, and such, but had never done this "online chat" thing. Fortunately, I'd participated in a few where my writing pals were featured, and figured I could do it without too much goofing up on my part! I offered to giveaway a few books to random posters, and let Connie make the decisions about who would win them. 

I must tell you, I had a blast! We had so many people and so much action that my fingers were flying the whole hour. We had 214 comments, and of course, more viewers lurking in the background. (which is fine - always happy to welcome "listeners.")

When it was over, I sent the two free books to the winners, and just today heard back from both of them. They loved Double Forte' and Mazurka (I gave them a choice on which book they could have). And now - one of the sweet readers posted a lovely review of my first book. So far, over a hundred people have read her review.

Ripples in the pond, people. Ripples in the pond.

Spreading the word is slow work, but all it takes is one lovely reader like Dawn to help with word of mouth recommendations. Those are definitely the best kind! There's nothing like a healthy dose of enthusiasm about your books to give you a huge boost.


Here's Dawn's review:

Recently, I won a copy of "Double Forté" through a live chat starring, Aaron Paul Lazar. "Double Forté" is the first book of the Gus LeGarde series; “Upstaged”, “Tremolo” and “Mazurka” being the other three. As soon as I received this book through mail, I immediately started reading it. It took me two days to read it, due to unavoidable distractions.
My review of "Double Forté":
“I thoroughly enjoyed reading Lazar's book from its beginning to the end; laughing and crying along the way. All my senses gathered for a picnic of non-stop adventure and mystery; emotions spilled from each anticipated page. Every character came to life! Siegfried was my favourite. I was born in Germany, while my parents served in the Army. I told mother about Siegfried’s role and how he shined in my eyes; she said, “While stationed in Germany, I met and encountered many people like Siegfried." After hearing my review of "Double Forté", mother instantly started reading the book for herself.
I highly recommend "Double Forté" to anyone who has a desperate thirst for adventure and mystery. Upstate New York, Genesee Valley, was gorgeously depicted during the winter by Lazar. You will definitely want to put it first on your list of places to visit.
Aaron Paul Lazar is one of the best authors I’ve had the pleasure of becoming acquainted with; a prolific writer, with the tenacity to keep his audience captivated from beginning to end. Aaron Paul Lazar possesses the talent to write in detail and bring his stories to life in the blink of an eye.
I definitely became a part of the story of “Double Forté”. His intricate use and knowledge of another language is superb. Still in awe I am! I must say, Lazar’s savvy way of blowing the reader’s mind with this jewel of a tale was worth all its weight in gold.
Eagerly, I plan to purchase the rest of Gus LeGarde Mysteries. Each book, I can visualize becoming a movie of its own. Mother and I look forward to, hopefully, viewing each one.

©2010 Dawn Kilby All Rights Reserved

Aaron Paul Lazar's LeGarde Mysteries site;

To purchase the LeGarde Mysteries


What can I say, except, "Thanks, Dawn!"

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Plotting Books and Editing Photos, 'tis all the same

Photo by Kim Smith, Oxford MS
Thanks to my dear friend, Marta, for suggesting this post.

I have been doing a lot of editing of photos lately, and much less plotting of books, but there is a similarity, nevertheless.

When you plot a book, you take a look at the whole story, beginning, middle, and end, and wrangle the idea into a tale, woven and spun. It is like that with picture editing also. You take the whole and tweak it here and there, cut it back a bit to bring out the best parts, and make sure all the lines are straight.

Editing wedding photos is especially fun because the story they tell is a happy one. Everyone looks great, and is smiling. Sort of the romance story.

Children's pics are more of a delving into the mind of kids and seeing what they see. Life has never been more interesting than when seeing things from that perspective.

photo credit Kim Smith

Likewise in writing, you must write the story the character sees, from their perspective.

So okay, I am going back to the editing table to color correct, crop, and adjust some images, and as I do that, I will be thinking of writing and my current WIP and how if I could only do a bit more of the editing on that, I might be called the Ansel Adams of the writing world!

Funny how when I am working on photos, I want to be writing, and when I am writing, all I can think of are the photos waiting to be shot, edited, and appreciated.

Sigh. The life of a creative person.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

13 Types of Mysteries

Did you know there are 13 different types of mystery? Do you know which category you actually belong in?
The following article was penned by Author Stephen D. Rogers .

From Cozy to Caper: A Guide to Mystery Genres

The mystery genre has developed many sub-genres over the years. While some stories straddle categories, correctly labeling your mystery will determine how an editor responds to your submission.

Following are thirteen of the most common slots.


When the rich uncle is found poisoned, the kindly lady from across the heath skips her afternoon tea to discover which of the family members committed the dastardly deed.

The cozy, typified by Agatha Christie, contains a bloodless crime and a victim who won't be missed. The solution can be determined using emotional (Miss Marple) or logical (Poirot) reasoning.

The Malice Domestic convention celebrates this tradition and produces an annual anthology.

Amateur Sleuth

Even though his business partner's death is declared a suicide, Frank can't shake the feeling that his partner was killed to sabotage the defense contract.

The amateur sleuth tries to solve the murder of someone close. Either the police have tried and failed or misread the murder as an accident/suicide. Both the loss and need for a solution is personal.

These are usually single-shot stories and novels since lightning rarely strikes the same person again and again (outside of a television series).

Professional Sleuth

Although Swiss banks were world-renowned for discretion and secrecy, Hans knew he needed to explain the dead body in the vault before Monday morning.

The professional sleuth is an amateur sleuth in a professional setting, preferably a setting which is unique and intriguing. Not only is inside information used, but solving the crime returns order to a cloistered environment.

Think Dick Frances and the world of horse racing.

Police Procedural

As Lieutenant Dickerman watched the new guy blow too much dust across the glass table top, he reached for the antacids in his pocket. The killer had struck four times now and Dickerman had to depend on clowns fresh out of the academy to gather evidence.

The police procedural emphasizes factual police operations. Law enforcement is a team effort where department politics often plays a large role. If you plan to write one of these, you need to spend time with police officers and research the tiny details which will make your story ring true.

Ed McBain's 87th Precinct novels describe the workings of a fictional big-city department.


The defense lawyer knew that the surgeon was going to be a difficult expert witness.

Lawyers and doctors make effective protagonists since they seem to exist on a plane far above the rest of us. Although popular, these tales are usually penned by actual lawyers and doctors due to the demands of the information presented.

To find latest legal/medical mystery look no farther than the bestseller list.


Despite the fact Greg hadn't seen the killer flee the scene of the crime, the two attempts on his life convinced him the killer believed otherwise.

Instead of the sleuth pursuing the criminal, in suspense the protagonist is the one being pursued. Here the question is not so much "Who done it?" but "How will the main character stay alive?"

These thrillers are often blockbusters.

Romantic Suspense

Despite the fact Vanessa hadn't seen the killer flee the scene of the crime, the two attempts on her life made her wonder if she shouldn't have said anything to Richard.

Add a hefty dose of romance to a suspense and produce a romantic suspense. Not only does justice prevail, but love conquers all.

The spectrum runs from Mary Higgins Clark to mystery lines from the paperback romance publishers.


When Sam Adams turned the Boston Massacre into a call for revolution, he neglected to mention that one of the men killed was shot not by the British but by someone firing from a second story window.

Move your mystery into the past, near or far, and you've entered the realm of the historical mystery. Crime has always been in fashion and the possibilities are limited only by your imagination and ability to research.

Mixed Genre

As if it wasn't bad enough that a clone had terminated a robot, Inspector Ji suspected the killing had been ordered by the Velusian ambassador.

Move your mystery into the future and you've entered the realm of the mixed-genre mystery. Although mixed-genre isn't confined to SF, science fiction is a healthy market which welcomes the marriage.

Isaac Asimov's ROBOT series is one example of a future police detective.

Private Eye

He fingered the retainer in his pocket, tried to remind himself that the client was always right. It didn't wash. She thought she could buy him but he wasn't for sale.

The Private Eye is as much an American icon as the Western gunslinger. From the hardboiled PIs of the 30s and 40s to the politically correct investigators of today, this sub-genre is known for protagonists with a strong code of honor.

While Lawrence Block's Matt Scudder is an unofficial PI, Sue Grafton's Kinsey Millhone is licensed.


He fingered the check in his pocket. He knew it would bounce, but so had Mac when he hit the pavement from seven stories up.

While much PI is Noir, Noir also covers stories from the other side of the fence. Noir is a mood: gritty, bleak, and unforgiving. The usual brutality is about as far from Cozy as you can get.

Plug "noir" into your favorite search engine to find a wealth of sites offering original and reprinted fiction.


They had thirty seconds to cut the alarm. Best time during drills had been fifteen. Now, twenty seconds after opening the faceplate, Allison slipped and dropped the pliers inside the wall.

Suspense in the crime story comes from wondering whether the plan will work. We're rooting for the bad guys because they are smart, organized, and daring. The ride will be a bumpy one.

This sub-genre works well in film. Consider renting The Taking of Pelham 1-2-3, Entrapment, or The Thomas Crowne Affaire.


The gun had been loaded when he left the house this morning so why wouldn't it shoot now? Gus cursed as he throttled the lump of metal and then glared down the barrel.

A caper is a comic crime story. Instead of suave and calculating, the caper chronicles the efforts of the lovable bungler who either thinks big or ridiculously small. Finally we get to laugh.

Marta Stephens writes crime mystery/suspense. Her books are available online at familiar shops such as all the Amazons, Barnes & Noble, Borders, Books-a-Million, and Powells. Other locations include, but are not limited to those listed on her website.

THE DEVIL CAN WAIT (2008), Bronze Medal Finalist, 2009 IPPY Awards, Top Ten, 2008 Preditors and Editors Reader Poll (mystery).

SILENCED CRY (2007) Honorable Mention, 2008 New York Book Festival, Top Ten, 2007 Preditors and Editors Reader Poll (mystery),
Personal site: www.martastephens-author.com
Personal blog: http://mstephens-musings.blogspot.com
Blog: http://novelworks2.blogspot.com/
Character Blog: http://www.samharpercrimescene.blogspot.com

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Obsession: An Epiphany

Most writers dream of the merry-go-round ring of publication -- and beyond that, all the things we imagine goes with it. Getting paid is high on that list. Another big-ticket item is recognition. Finally! People who are not related to us and therefore obligated to say nice things will read and enjoy our stories! We will have fan mail! We will have starred reviews! We will have horrible reviews that will nonetheless generate reader interest -- if only so they can see for themselves what a train wreck we've made of our oh-so-lucky published book!

Oddly enough -- for me, at least -- being published (even with multiple titles out) still feels pretty much the same as it did back in the day (if you're not sure what feeling I'm referring to, check out this hilarious post from YA writer Tahereh).

Pursuant to the general cricket-inducing feel of my inbox (and the cruel, heartless Internet in general), I had begun to despair. I did receive a few bits of fan mail, which made me jump up and down repeatedly and squee. I did receive some really glowing reviews, for which I am eternally grateful, and some not-so-glowing reviews, for which I am ... refraining from making an Internet jackass out of myself over. But there is no landslide here, no echoes of stadium crowd cheering. No great burst of star ratings on Amazon or delighted reader comments on Goodreads. The world remains stubbornly indifferent over my arrival as An Author.

I thought: indifference = no sales. No sales = no more contracts. No more contracts = go back to work making burgers, loser.

But the other day, I realized something. How many times have I reviewed a book I loved on Amazon or Goodreads, or anywhere else for that matter? About twice, for dear author-friends, and if I weren't a writer myself I probably wouldn't have. How many times have I given a book a star rating -- good or bad -- on any site? Zero. How many authors have I written to, in order to tell them how I drooled over their books and read them to dog-eared shreds? None.

Why not? It just never occurs to me. I read a book, I love it, I go and look for more books by that author. If I can't find any more, I wait until another one comes out, and buy it.

I further reasoned that if these are my reading habits, perhaps I'm not alone. So I gave it some thought. My husband, an avid reader, has never written a book review or given stars. My sisters, both book lovers -- nope, not them either. Fellow copywriters I worked with for many, many years, heavy readers... no, they don't write reviews, they don't star things online. They read, they love, they buy more books. The same goes for people I've worked with in restaurants, at convenience stores, in other various odds-and-ends jobs. For people I know in "town" that I run into at the grocery store. For mothers of friends, and associated acquaintances, who volunteer at the library. None of them write Internet reviews or click on stars. Yet they all read, they all fall in love with good stories ... they all buy books.

I know this to be true. Because once I had my epiphany, I asked them. :)

So, I shall no longer despair that no one is reading, and that no one cares. And I think I'll endeavor to write a few more book reviews, and leave a few more star ratings. After all, there are probably a lot of other writers who are just as neurotic and obsessed as me.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

The Quick Red Fox, by John D. MacDonald

One of the sweetest parts of getting back into the workforce this week has been the ability to read whole books at a time while traveling. Okay, so ignore the fact that I'm falling asleep on my keyboard because I only got three hours sleep on the plane last night. (That's not drool. Honest!) Ignore the fact that I miss my family so much it's already killing me. Ignore the fact that I ate so much rich German food tonight, I think I'm never going to eat again. Let's ignore all that stuff and let me tell you about my mentor, John D. MacDonald.

How many of you have had the pleasure of reading his mysteries? I'm particularly fond of the Travis McGee series, and while choosing from my collection of books to be read en route and back from Germany, I picked a couple of easy-to-carry paperbacks. I've read most of the Travis McGee books, and this one is all torn up from all the times I've read it. But each time, I find a new and astonishing twist of words that leaves me breathless, and inspired. Damn, he's good. (Did you know he also inspired Dean Koontz?)

I want to share a few excerpts from this book to entice you to buy one of them. Do yourself a huge favor, and next time you're at the library or checking out books at a yard sale, pick up a dozen. Or two. Here's a photo of the window sill next to the table I sat at last night at the restaurant in my little guesthouse.

My particular copy was a yard sale find. The previous owner had also read it until it was tattered. I just noticed the original price on the torn cover - 50 cents! Printed right there on the cover. Of course, I probably paid a quarter for it. A steal, if there ever was one. (Read a history about this prolific writer who produced over 70 books!)

I think my favorite aspect of MacDonald's writing, in addition to his astute human and political observations, are his descriptions of people.

On describing the Hollywood star who hires him to help make some steamy orgy photos "disappear," he waxes incredibly perceptive and poetic:

     "I had not expected her to have such a genuine flavor of youthfulness. By every way I could measure it, she had to be about thirty-three. Yet she was a young girl, and not in any forced way. She had the slimness, the clear-eyed look of enormous vitality, the fine-grained and flawless skin, the heavy swing of burnished hair. Her impact, so carefully measured it seemed unaffected, was of a kind of innocence aware. A gamin sparkle, hinting at a delicious capacity for naughtiness."

Do you see how he just plain talks right to you, with no fancy words or sentence structures in the beginning? He often uses "She was," or "It was," and sometimes repetitively. It's effective, and unlike what lots of us have been shamed out of doing by the current day writing elite who frown on the "wuzzies," or using too much of the "to be" verb in construction. Yet, it doesn't bother me a bit here. It seems to make his writing more honest, more like a head-to-head chat.

Then we move into the description that seems to swell and grow with each new phrase. By the time I read, "a gamin sparkle," I was nearly salivating with not only envy for his talent, but possibly with lust for the women he described. (grin)

One of the things I love about Travis McGee is that he didn't fall for this obviously calculating beauty. No, he fell slowly in love with an almost plain gal who grew more and more beautiful the more he knew her - inside. Now, that's my kind of hero.

Near the end of the book, McDonald describes Ulka Atland M'Gruder in this way:

     "...Her tilted gray-green-blue Icelandic eyes were the cold of northern seas. Her hair was a rich, ripe, heavy spill of pale pale gold, curved across the high and placid brow. She had little to say, and a sleepy and disinterested way of saying it. Her eyes kept seeking out her husband. Over all that stalwart Viking loveliness there was such a haze of sensuality it was perceptible, like a strange matte finish. It was stamped into the slow and heavy curve of her smile, marked by the delicate violet shadows under her eyes, expressed by the cant of her high, round hips and the way she stood." (And no, I didn't omit the comma you might have expected after the first "pale." I think it works better that way, and highly approve of his lack of separation of the identical word used for emphasis. Not that this genius needs my approval! Ha!)

There is so much more in this section, I wish I could share the whole page with you. Before you think, "Damn, he's such a womanizer," think again. Travis deeply loves the women in his life. He cherishes them. He respects them. And he has a great way of making the seemingly innocent beauties into absolute horror shows. I won't spill the beans any more, in case you read the book.

Here's one more segment that caught my eye.

     "Later I sat near Ulke in a big game room in the house, while she carved and chewed her way through a huge rare steak, knife and teeth flashing, jaw muscles and throat working, her eyes made blank by a total concentration on this physical gratification. The effort made a sweaty highlight on her pale brow, and at last she picked up the sirloin bone and gnawed it bare, putting a slick of grease on lips and fingertips. There was no vulgarity in this hunger, any more than when a tiger cracks the hip bone to suck the marrow."

How many people eating steak did this bring to your mind? I could see that grease shining from her fingertips and the white bone flashing in the light. Couldn't you? He really nailed it, and it was particularly effective when paired with such an "ethereal" beauty as Ulke.

Like I said, genius.

Here's an example of MacDonald's sudden insertion of wise philosophical observations. He's talking about the characters going horseback riding, and thinks he has the killer in his sight. He's worried about something happening to the innocents who ride with them. His horse gives him fits. And while he keeps an eye on the supposed villain, he had doubts about his theories, realizing that the guy could maybe be innocent. It ends with this:

"Violence is the stepchild of desperation."

Where does he come up with this stuff? It's so poignant, and so true. And he just tosses it out there for us, like a gem dangling at the end of a perfectly normal paragraph.

I think when I get home I'll dig out a few more Travis McGee books, and hope some of this talent rubs off on me. Damn. I want to be that good. I really do.

How about you?

-- Aaron

P.S. Just for grins, here are a few pix from my first day and a half in Germany. I had a good day at work, today, meeting everyone and learning more about the products we make. Sadly, my insides weren't cooperating enough to fully enjoy the meals, but look how beautifully presented the dishes are:

The guest house dining room

                                                                                           White asparagus is a delicacy in Germany.

     Vanilla ice cream with passionfruit!       The sorbet to cleanse the palate.    Chocolate mouse - an artist must live in that kitchen!

                                           The guest house             One of many cute little two seaters on the road.

Friday, June 11, 2010


© Barbara Levenson 2010 all rights reserved

... But all you know about court is what you’ve seen on LAW AND ORDER

Most readers savor mysteries and thrillers that revolve around court cases. Scott Turow and John Grisham are attorneys. My two mystery novels, FATAL FEBRUARY and JUSTICE IN JUNE, make use of courtroom scenes and clients with legal problems. This was easy for me since I am a lawyer and a judge and have spent half my life in courtrooms.

Is it necessary to be a lawyer to write a mystery that is centered in the justice system? The answer is no, if you are willing to spend some time getting ready to write such a book.

Although the protagonist in my mystery series, Mary Magruder Katz, is a Miami criminal defense attorney, there are many other protagonists who can fill the role in a legal thriller. Court reporters sit in courtrooms and do nothing but listen. They mull over their own theories of the cases they cover. Court clerks sit in court all day and have access to the files in all the cases assigned to a judge. Bailiffs are an important part of courtroom proceedings. There are corrections officers, victim advocates, guardians ad litem who protect the rights of children and the elderly. Any of these people could be an interesting protagonist. Since none of them are lawyers, they aren’t expected to know all the nuances of the law.

So how can you learn enough about how the court works and the procedures which must be followed in order to make your book sound authentic. The best way to begin is to go to court. All courtrooms are open to the public. Pick a trial that sounds interesting and sit through it from jury selection to verdict. Bring a notebook and keep running notes of the way a trial proceeds, how the witnesses sound, and what the lawyers argue about during motion hearings. Prior to the beginning of the trial, explain to the bailiff that you are an author doing research. Ask the bailiff if you may take a minute and introduce yourself to the judge. Most judges will be happy to entertain questions after the trial, so note those in your notebook as the trial proceeds.

Sitting through more than one trial is even better. All judges operate their courtrooms in their own style, so you will gain even more understanding of the variety of problems that occur during every trial. You will also hear objections and the judge’s rulings which will give you some background in what is allowed and what cannot come into a trial.

Court files are open to the public. Most files are in the care of the Clerk of Court and can be requested to be read in the clerk’s office. Ask for help from a court clerk for the procedure to request a file. Then go through the file and read any motions that have been filed by the attorneys. Read the depositions of witnesses to get the flavor and rhythm of questions and answers.

Now that you have a little feel for the workings of the system, your next logical step is to find an interesting attorney who is willing to let you shadow him or her for a few days. Most lawyers are happy to accommodate you especially if they get mentioned in your book and are given a nice commercial in the acknowledgments in the front of your novel. This is your opportunity to ask dozens of questions and increase your knowledge of the day to day work of an attorney. You should look for a criminal defense attorney or a prosecutor. These are the lawyers whose lives revolve around court proceedings. Civil attorneys spend very little time in court.

One caveat, don’t expect to be allowed to sit in on client conferences. This would destroy the attorney-client privilege of confidentiality.

Don’t disregard the importance of the paralegal or secretary of the attorney. They have valuable knowledge of the justice system from the angle of a lay person who is involved closely with the lawyer.

If you decide to cast your protagonist as a bailiff or a court reporter, arrange to spend some days following them through their tasks. Again, most people are flattered to have an author seeking their comments. Bailiffs’ duties involve keeping the courtroom running safely and quietly. They wield great power. Attorneys know if they don’t make friends with the bailiff, their cases could end up at the end of a busy docket so there is much material ripe for a novel.

Trials cannot proceed without the services of a court reporter. Without one there is no record of the proceedings. A good court reporter is vital and a bad one can wreck the record. He or she knows their importance so don’t overlook the authenticity they would bring to a legal thriller.

If you are versed in a second language or the setting for your novel is in a jurisdiction where there are a variety of languages spoken, an interpreter is vital to court proceedings. In Miami where I practiced and sit as a judge, courts can’t survive without an interpreter. JUSTICE IN JUNE utilizes an interpreter in one of the three featured cases that make up the plot. Mary’s client, accused of terrorism, finally gets his day in court after being hidden away for weeks by federal officers. That courtroom scene could not be authentic without an interpreter being on the spot.

One set of professionals that I haven’t discussed are journalists. There are fewer reporters working for fewer newspapers, but court cases still get coveted print space in electronic and print news outlets. Reading articles about court cases is valuable. Of even more value for the purpose of an author is following a court case and then reading how a reporter covered that case. You may find that what you heard and what the reporter wrote are not the same. Try to interview the reporter to see how he or she decided what was important to the story. If you find a reporter with whom you establish some rapport, you may even want your protagonist to be a journalist.

Now you are finally ready to begin your legal thriller. The plot is clear. The characters are coming to life on the page, but your copious notes have left you with some quandaries about the law. Why did the judge say the victim’s statement was hearsay? Why wasn’t the jury told that the defendant had raped three other women? Why couldn’t they know about his recent stay in the county jail? How come there were only three women on the jury panel and the rest got excused? This is the time for a visit to your local law school. Find a young professor who loves to talk about the law. (Believe me, they all love to explain the law copiously and endlessly) You may hear more than you wanted, but it’s a great place to ask questions.

All of this research is time consuming, but it’s a lot more interesting than sitting in front of a computer looking at pages from Wikepedia. So go to court and have some fun. Even if you don’t ever write a legal thriller, think of all you will have learned. If you’re still hankering to dive into a courtroom caper, you can always read FATAL FEBRUARY and JUSTICE IN JUNE, and the other Mary Magruder Katz Mysteries each year.

About the author:

Barbara Levenson has lived in Miami for the past 33 years. A cum laude graduate of the University of Miami Law School, Barbara has served as a prosecutor and run her own law practice where she focused on criminal defense and civil rights litigation. Barbara was elected to a judgeship in the circuit court of Miami-Dade County, where she still serves as a senior judge.

Born in Mt. Vernon, Ohio, Barbara was raised in Columbus, Ohio. She was the first woman elected to the Columbus Board of Education, and later served as the Board’s first female president. Barbara was also the first woman to be named the Ohio Newspaper’s “Man of the Year.”

Barbara and her husband, a retired financial consultant, bred and showed German Shepherd Dogs for 20 years and finished 11 champions in the show ring. They have two sons.

Barbara Levenson is the author of FATAL FEBRUARY, the first novel in the Mary Magruder Katz mystery series. JUSTICE IN JUNE is Barbara’s latest novel.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Telling Stories

I'm baaaack. Did you miss me?

I have been so busy lately with life things, not writing things, that I haven't been even able to sit down and focus on anything worthy of your attention.

I decided to try and pen something today that would interest you.

Here it is:

The best advice I have ever gotten as a writer was : "Tell a good story"
The best advice I have ever gotten as a photographer was : "Tell the story"

There is a lot of similarities in that advice, huh?

Here is what I think it all means, in a nutshell :

In order to interest an audience who has your book in their hands, you must tell them the story they believe you have promised. Something so beguiling and fascinating, they cannot put it down. I think that is why cover art is so important also. It is the visual face of your story

In order to interest the eye of a potential photography client, you must be able to tell a story in pictures, something that makes them go oh and ah. Something so beautiful they cannot wait to pick up the phone and call you. Or as in this pic, a man about to be married in his uniform, takes time out to relish his soon-to-be wife's ring. That is what is known as a "moment" and that is what photography is about capturing.

It is interesting to me to see the similarities between the two loves of my life, writing and photography. I think I can learn a lot from each thing, and it will assist me with the other.

Major point: Tell a story, tell a good story, and you will have your audience eating out of your hands.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Are You In Control or Controlling?

© Marta Stephens 2010 all rights reserved

Lately my focus has been on numerous work projects, home, and family with very little going on in the fun fiction side of things, and I’m very much okay with it. Let’s just say I’m taking time off to regenerate the creative juices.

What I’m about to share has nothing to do with writing in particular, but has everything to do with human behavior which for us writers might be a handy thing to know whether you write these traits into your next character or use it to overcome your next face-to-face encounter with a controlling person.

I was in the middle of updating a handbook for work on the subject of supervisors and human behavior when I came across and interesting list of negative traits that label an unsuspecting individual as a “control freak.” Why unsuspecting? Because these folks see nothing wrong with their behavior. They see themselves as crusaders to right the wrong in the world around them. With the proverbial red pen in hand, they slash out words, or if they’re feeling particularly powerful that day, entire paragraphs with a single stroke of their mighty pen. An evil grin spreads across their faces as subordinates cower back, pledging to mend the error of their ways.

Blah! We’ve all had a brush with controllers. They’re the people who finish our sentences for us and interrupt a conversation the minute the other person mispronounces a word or insist on instructing others how to “do it right.” Instead of looking at the overall picture, they focus in on the supposed errors or omissions the other person has made. Sometimes these aren’t really errors, but things that don’t fit neatly into the controlling person’s perception of logic. A controlling individual seems to find pleasure in catching someone making a mistake, rather than promoting and encouraging the positive. So what’s behind the need for control? Why do some folks think they’re the only people in the know or who have good ideas? Not sure, but the words, “deep-rooted insecurities” and “the need to feel important” come to mind -- just my opinion, of course.

Granted, we all have a little controlling mechanism in us (yes, even me), but I can’t understand the obsession nor do I appreciate this behavior when I’m on the receiving end of things. Don’t get me wrong, it hasn’t happened recently, but I’ve been there/done that before and know how it’s made me feel. I suspect a person consumed by the need to control must surely think his or her actions earn them respect or perhaps even label them as “knowledgeable.” Unfortunately, not everyone works well under the pressure of another’s thumbprint. What’s more important is that there is a limit to what others will tolerate. Soon those whispers behind closed doors will be the disgruntled cries of unrest.

I certainly don’t want to imply that opinions should be repressed or that corrections should not be suggested. On the contrary. I believe that in an adult setting, open discussion and suggestions are always welcomed when done in a constructive manner. Unfortunately the controlling individual tends to have a “me” mentality and frankly are sometimes nothing more than meddlesome bullies who mask their behavior under the guise of trying to help.

As I gathered the information I needed for my updates, I came across the following list of traits associated with these behavior weaknesses. Although my thoughts are from a management standpoint, the traits can certainly apply to anyone, anytime, anywhere. So here’s a test. No points, no grade, no calculated answers, just a little food for thought.

You demand to be in control if,

It's difficult for you to trust people.

You automatically reject any big idea that is not your own.

You can't stand it when you're in a car but not driving.

You always want to tweak something, even if it is the work of experts in a field you know nothing about.

When it comes to social gatherings, you prefer to do the planning.

You only accept something another person says when your opinion is outnumbered.

You tend to think that you know what's best for other people.

You have a dumb idea, you know it won’t work, yet you fight tooth and nail for it rather than admit you’ve made a mistake.

You take credit for other people’s ideas and are genuinely convinced they are yours.

You make lists for everything in your life.

As much as possible, you need to do everything yourself.

You rarely think that you're wrong.

You love to be the center of attention.

You get bored when you have to listen to other people talk.

Your vacations tend to be structured and active.

You don't like people touching your stuff.

When you're in a relationship, you like to know where your significant other is at all times.

You are definitely a perfectionist - and your own worst critic.

It's hard for you to get used to a new hair style or new pair of jeans.

You would not really enjoy a surprise party thrown for you.

You can't stand to wait for people who are running a few minutes late.

You are a completely stubborn person.

You tend to interrupt people a lot.

You don't like taking orders.

You don't take it lightly when people disagree with you.

Other people's messes really bother you.

When you're watching TV with other people, you always have to have the remote.

You are easily irritated.

You generally don't trust people.

You are insulted when people don't take your advice.

Monday, June 7, 2010

What’s on my mind?

© J. D. Webb 2010 all rights reserved

Facebook is always asking what’s on my mind. As if it’s their business. Usually my “share” is snarky, often offbeat. Yesterday I shared: There are times in conversations where you just want to say to someone, "Never pass up an opportunity to shut up." Further reflection, which I do when I’m putting off hunkering down to add to my work-in-progress and not playing Spider Solitaire, gave me another perspective on that statement. As an author, I can have an additional recourse. I can put that person in my novel and actually say it to him or her.

Authors have a tremendous opportunity for venting frustration. Believe me we have more than our share of frustration. Editors don’t like our voice, or our character doesn’t seem real. Agents give us form letters telling us our novel is not a good fit or more often send us no answer at all. Publishers want us to finish a book in four months time and still attend book signings, interviews, and rewrite the last fifteen chapters.  We work stuffed into our cubbyholes pounding on the keyboard or, if it applies, continually sharpening those pencils.

So, if someone cuts me off in traffic, they’re destined to be spindled or mutilated in my next book. I’ll mark down that person’s description, not too specific – I don’t want to be sued for slander or libel which ever applies – and a character is hatched. A telemarketer calls during supper and that voice is applied to a character. I’m channel surfing and happen to catch Dr. Phil and a perfect victim will be talking as if he or she knows what the heck is going on. Even Dr. Phil somedays. Although, I’d never put him in a book. Stay away from celebrities. That slander or libel thing will get expensive.

You get the point. Don’t have to pay big bucks for a shrink. My therapy is put ‘em my books and eradicate them in a justifiably horrible way. The more I get ticked, the harsher the punishment. It gives me a feeling of power and control. That may be the only time all day when I get such a feeling. After all, I am an author.

About the author, J. D. Webb:

I live in Forsyth, Illinois with Judi, my wife and best friend of 40 years, and our toy poodle, Ginger. I lose all domestic votes 2 to 1. Writing has been a life-long interest ever since, as punishment for being mischievous, I was thrust into a creative writing class. I've never hesitated to be mischievous again.

Four years in the Security Service of the Air Force serving fifteen months in the Philippines and a short stint in Viet Nam in 1965 and 1966 as a linguist, fluent in Chinese preceded 24 years in various management positions with the A. E. Staley Mfg. Co.  Then I was promoted to cobbler, owning a shoe repair and retail shoe store for 11 years, closing in 2002, when I became a full-time author.

My three novels were published by Wings ePress Inc.

The first is SHEPHERD'S PIE. Follow the link to read an excerpt of the first in the Mike Shepherd series.
The second is MOON OVER CHICAGO. Follow the link to read an excerpt of the first in the Fulton Moon series.
The third is HER NAME IS MOMMY. Follow the link to read an excerpt of the first in the Mike Shepherd book.

Coming soon is SMUDGE a stand-alone thriller.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Writing a Mystery Series

Writing A Mystery Series
by Blaize Clement

Writing a mystery series is like being a circus juggler on a high wire, except instead of keeping three or four things in motion, you've got way more, and some of them keep changing shape. First, there's the book you're working on at the moment. Whether it's the third or seventh or twelfth, the book has to have all the elements any mystery has — a murder or robbery or some other bad thing, an innocent victim that the bad thing shouldn't have happened to, a determined seeker of justice relentlessly going after the person who did the bad thing, and a lighter side story to relieve the tension or goriness of the main story. The panic that comes from knowing you have to come up with all those things is enough to raise your heart rate, but this is a series, and those mystery basics are just the...well, the basics. A book in a series has to have all the basics plus a bunch of other things.

If a series is built around one person, like my pet sitter, Dixie Hemingway, the character has to grow a little bit in every book. Like real people, fictional characters who never grow are boring. In the same way that real people grow in slow increments, fictional characters have to do that too. If they jump from A to L without going through any of the steps in between, it won't seem true. If they've always hated their next door neighbors and then invite them to Thanksgiving dinner just because they get sentimental over a Butterball turkey commercial, it will fall flat. Big changes have to happen in small steps, and in a series, each book becomes one of the steps. Inside each book, of course, even smaller steps have to happen in order to move the character toward a significant shift. And that doesn't even involve the mystery plot.

Careful character pacing isn't the only thing a series writer has to pay attention to. The character's environment is also crucial. I don't mean an exotic subtropical place like Dixie Hemingway's, I mean all the physical details of a character's life. If you created an apartment for your lead character in your first book, and that apartment has pale blue bedroom walls, you can't paint them pink in the second book. If the kitchen is to the right of the living room in the first book, you darn well better put it to the right of the living room in the second, third, fourth, and forever books because readers will expect it there and they will let you know in a nanosecond if you move it. Same thing with secondary characters who are in every book. You can't give a guy blue eyes in one book and hazel eyes in the next one. If a character drives a Jeep in the first book, readers will expect that same Jeep in the next one, so if you put him/her in a different car, you have to provide a reason. Sometimes the reason can become part of your plot and make it more interesting, but you have to justify any change you make.
When you finish the first book in a series, you'll think you'll never forget all those details. Trust me, you will. For a series writer, a facts file is indispensable. In my facts file, I have a floor plan of Dixie's apartment, the color of her living room sofa, the kind of car she drives, all the little details that are easy to forget. I also have nitty-gritty details about other characters, including pets: breed, color, apartment numbers, car makes and colors, which side of the street their business is located on. Since Dixie's brother loves to cook, food is an element in every book, so I keep a file of meals consumed and which book the meal was in.

With every new manuscript, I go back to the file and refresh my memory. How long is the hunky lawyer's hair? Are his eyes brown or black? And the homicide detective that makes Dixie's heart trip, are his eyes gray or blue? And how about Dixie's apartment? How many windows does she have, how large are they, and where are they located? Is her single bed against the wall by the living room door or on the other side? Even with all the details I've included in my facts file, I still sometimes have to go back to a previous manuscript and do a search.

Dixie Hemingway is a fictional character, but she seems real to me — and to my readers — because of the consistency of detail. With each book in the series, I do a high wire act while I juggle a lot of clues and characters. My facts file is the net that allows me to focus on the fun of plotting and pacing. Of all the things I'd recommend for series writers, a facts file heads the list!

Blaize Clement, a 2010 nominee for the Mary Higgins Clark Award, is the author of the best-selling Dixie Hemingway Mystery Series. She is currently working on the seventh book in the series. For bio, books, chats with readers, and an excerpt of her latest book, RAINING CAT SITTERS AND DOGS, go to
Blaize Clement . Her "Kitty Litter" blog is at
Dixie Hemingway Blog .